On my way back from Paris today on the plane, I was reading story in Spanish newspaper ABC about how an elementary school in Girona (Catalunya, Spain) had wanted to prohibit an eight year old Muslim girl of Moroccan origin from attending class wearing the hijab (or head scarf). Because there is no legislation on students wearing religious symbols to school, the courts have allowed the girl to continue wearing the hijab. But the debate on prohibiting Muslim girls from wearing head scarves to public schools continues.
A similar debate in France a few years back ended in legislation that prohibited all public school students from wearing any religious attire or symbols. I was against that law then and I am also against any similar prohibitions in Spain. The whole debate is not only xenophobic, it is also counter productive and extremist.
According to the ABC, the following Spanish politicians had these absurd things to say about the young Muslim girl’s plight:
Our new civics course curriculum will serve as a useful way to teach these Muslim girls why they should remove the veil. Pedro Zerolo, Secretary of Social Services, Partido Socialista Español.
We do not agree with the veil; it is as if Catholic boys were required to dress as Nazarines. José Campos, Secretary of Educación, Comisiones Obreras (a worker’s union party).
People who come to this country should know that we have rules. Today it is the veil, tomorrow they’ll want something else. Daniel Serra, President of the Partido Popular of Catalunya.
We have to establish the ground rules for immigrants so we don’t lose our own culture. Durán Lleida, Spokesman for Convergencia i Unió in Congress.
I have never experienced such hate speech from elected officials, some of them that consider themselves liberals and pro-human rights. I almost don’t even know where to begin, but I will try.
The U.S. is a different than Europe on these matters. Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the government may not promote or prohibit religion. Thus, public schools may not teach religion, co-mingle with religion, but they cannot prohibit the religious identity of students. Growing up in a multi-cultural suburb of Washington, DC, we had Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, and Buddhists. There were never any tensions between the students on religious grounds no matter whether they wore kippahs, turbans or crosses around their necks.
To say that a Muslim girl cannot wear a hijab or a Sikh boy must cut his hair basically puts those children’s families in a difficult position: either reject your religion or forgo public education. Fine, there are plenty out there who will argue, if you don’t like it, don’t come to my country. But, what if you are already a citizen? Doesn’t the Constitution grant us the right to practice the religion of our choice?
The Spanish answer to that last question is that the law should prohibit at least the hijab because it discriminates against women. Yes, but would they also prohibit the Sikh boy from wearing a turban to cover his locks because females do not have to? And if the Spanish politicians are so concerned with the equal rights of Muslim girls, why don’t they first stop and analyze their own Catholic Church.
Yes, that’s right. Under the Spanish Constitution, public schools have the obligation to offer Catholic education to all willing students. And how much less discriminatory is the Catholic Church towards women? Women cannot become priests and they do not qualify for Popedom either. Nuns dress in their own style of veils and have absolutely no vote or say in Church politics. Maybe Spanish public schools should teach their females students about how they will never have a role in Church decision-making.
Here are a few other interesting points that these politicans should keep in mind:
- The hiyab is a scarf, not a veil. A veil covers one’s face. Let’s not lose sight here, please, or get all hysterical.
- In Spain, many public schools are “colegios concertados” meaning that they are private schools that act as “public schools” under government contract, and many of these are taught by priests or nuns. Under the politicians’ logic, nuns should be prohibited from teaching in as they are veiled.
- As you can see from the photo of ReWrite from last December when we were in Marrakech, Morocco, not all Moroccan girls (the country of origin of the Girona student) wear the veil to school. Some do, some do not. It is question left to the child and to her parents. As a matter of fact, wearing it or not wearing it is a non issue in Morocco, so why is it such an issue in Spain?
- In France, the affect has been segration. Conservative parents send their kids to religous private schools. This does not lead to integration, but rather has the opposite affect. Kids want to integrate. Forcing them out of schools or to feel like their culture/religion has no place in society does not help. Ironically, Girona has a strong Jewish and Muslim past. Let’s not talk about the past, though, let’s just keep kippahs and hiyabs out of the picture.
Prohibiting religious attire basically says that everyone has to look and act just exactly a like, and what is acceptable is what is Spanish and nothing else. But what happens when a teenager wants to wear dred locks? Or grow a beard? Or have long hair. Should we move to uniforms for public schools? Or should we say that everyone has to convert to Catholicism and give the same answers on essays in order to be allowed to stay in public schools? The next thing you know, they are going to prohibit the children of Latin American immigrants from speaking with a South American accent — oh, that’s right, in Catalunya they already do that, it’s called Catalán language only education.